ripples on water
“In the quest for better health, many people turn to doctors, self-help books or herbal supplements. But they overlook a powerful weapon that could help them fight illness and depression, speed recovery, slow aging, and prolong life: their friends.
“Researchers are only now starting to pay attention to the importance of friendship and social networks in overall health. A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends. A large 2007 study showed an increase of nearly 60 percent in the risk for obesity among people whose friends gained weight. And last year, Harvard researchers reported that strong social ties could promote brain health as we age.
“ ‘In general, the role of friendship in our lives isn’t terribly well appreciated,’ said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro…. Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.’
“In a new book, “The Girls From Ames: A Story of Women and a 40-Year Friendship” (Gotham), Jeffrey Zaslow tells the story of 11 childhood friends who scattered from Iowa to eight different states.... Using scrapbooks, photo albums and the women’s own memories, Mr. Zaslow chronicles how their close friendships have shaped their lives and continue to sustain them. The role of friendship in their health and well-being is evident in almost every chapter….
“ ‘People with stronger friendship networks feel like there is someone they can turn to,’ said Karen A. Roberto, director of the center for gerontology at Virginia Tech. ‘Friendship is an undervalued resource. The consistent message of these studies is that friends make your life better.’ ”
…. “Man is a social being” – this is one of the things that we learn early enough in life. As social beings, we're sustained in many different ways by a sense of belongingness, by that feeling of being part of a group that we believe appreciates, supports, and protects us – a group we can feel comfortable in. However, this article’s focus on friends and friendships versus family members and family relationships can be misleading. It appears to imply that the family as a group – the nuclear family and the extended family of relatives -- cannot also spawn the friendships and social networks that a circle of friends provides.
One wonders -- can't family members be friends or be like friends? We think they can. The friendships will come as family members increasingly outgrow most, if not all, of the unequal or dependent relationships that naturally form in families -- kids being dependent on parents, uncles and aunts, and grandparents; younger family members dependent on older members; the weaker dependent on the stronger, etc. When family members outgrow these dependencies and become more interdependent, friendships among family members can also be cultivated in the way they are shaped among individuals who become friends. And such friendships can be as profound as any.
Finally, we think that what's really pivotal in providing the sense of well-being the article describes is not “friendship” per se. It is instead that element of “interconnectedness” that profound friendships eventually engender —whether it is friendships among friends or among family members. It’s that feeling of being one with others outside oneself….